Winter temperatures can disrupt our routines and, if we’re not prepared, they have the potential to become dangerous. To help you mentally prepare, we’ve answered some of the most common extreme cold and blizzard-related questions.
What temperature is considered extreme cold?
Temperatures below freezing level, which is 32°F, are considered extreme cold.
When planning to spend time outdoors during the winter, however, you should also take into account the wind chill which could significantly impact your body’s ability to retain heat. The National Weather Service has this wind chill chart to help you calculate the time it would take your face to get frostbite based on different temperatures and wind speeds.
It’s also important to note that people have different tolerances to cold temperatures. Some people, such as children and the elderly, are more vulnerable to cold weather than the average adult.
What are the effects of cold weather on the human body?
The body can experience a wide range of symptoms from being exposed to extremely cold temperatures. Some of the effects include:
- Reduced blood flow beginning with your extremities and possibly working its way to other parts of your body
- Ear pain
- Bronchospasms—an irritation of the airways when breathing in cold air
- Heart problems
One of the ways to prevent weather-related health problems is by remembering to dress appropriately when going out in the cold. Make sure to wear layers, and use a warm pair of mittens or gloves, socks, and a beanie. Don’t wear wet clothes on for too long- always keep an extra change of clothes in the car if you’re traveling.
Assess your body when you’re out in the cold for long periods of time. Make sure you maintain sensation in your fingers, toes, nose, etc. If you begin to feel weird— either strong heart palpitations, uncontrollable shivering, slurred speech, shallow breathing— then you might be experiencing the initial symptoms of hypothermia. Get help as soon as possible.
How do you deal with extreme cold weather?
Preparing for winter weather temperatures is important, especially if you live in or are traveling to a cold climate.
If at all possible, stay home if a winter storm is forecasted. If you have to go outdoors, wear the appropriate clothing, and avoid putting too much physical stress on your body. Strenuous activity in cold weather can lead to heart attacks and other health complications. Check out this guide to learn how you can stay safe during extremely cold temperatures.
For those who need to commute, drive carefully. Before the winter season arrives, be sure to winterize your car and have a fully stocked and updated emergency vehicle kit. Check out this article to read about the essential items that should be kept in your winter car kit.
Can I start my car in extreme cold? Or will it stop working?
Cold weather can make it difficult for your car to start. Sometimes the problem has to do with an old or worn-out battery, the engine oil becoming thick in cold temperatures, a clogged carburetor, or perhaps something else.
I recommend you take your car to a trusted mechanic for a routine checkup and inspection one month prior to the winter season. A month should give you enough time to make any necessary fixes. Learn how to care for your car during extreme weather and use the proper fluids, such as antifreeze.
Can extreme cold cause power outages?
Yes. Power outages can happen any time of year but during extremely cold temperatures, it makes life a bit more difficult. Hypothermia can occur whether you're indoors or outdoors, your home’s water pipes may burst, and your comfort level might diminish.
Power outages during cold temperatures can be caused by a number of things. In some cases, severe winter storms can damage or break power lines. In other cases, there could be a city-wide overload of electricity usage—for instance, too many people cranking up their heaters or appliances and the power plants being unable to keep up with production.
It’s important to be prepared for power outages, especially during the winter season. Don’t miss this guide on power outage preparedness!
How do you survive a blizzard?
These are some tips to survive a blizzard:
If you’re home:
- Have a stockpile of food and water in case you can’t go to the store for a few days.
- Have alternative cooking and heating methods ready in case there’s a power outage.
If you’re outdoors:
- Always wear plenty of layers made from the appropriate materials.
- Carry a change of clothes with you— at the very least a pair of socks, gloves, beanie, and underwear. Don’t wear wet clothes for too long, especially if you’re outdoors and there’s a wind chill.
If you’re driving:
- Drive carefully since the roads will be slick.
- Have an emergency kit in your car equipped with snow chains that fit your tires, some water, non-perishable food and snacks, a signal light, and supplies like blankets and hand warmers to keep you warm.
- If you become stranded for any reason, stay in your car and turn on your hazard lights to warn other drivers that you’re there. If you have a signal triangle or reflective vest, hang it from a visible spot in your car, such as the radio antenna.
- Uncover the exhaust pipe from the snow.
- Run your car for ten minutes every hour to get boosts of warmth. Do not run your car much more than that because you’ll run out of gas fast and you risk becoming poisoned by carbon monoxide.
- Cover the inner part of your car windows with an emergency blanket (stick it on with small pieces of duct tape). This will help retain your body heat inside the car. Keep your hands and toes moving to prevent your extremities from getting frostbite.
- Stay hydrated. Drink hot teas and soups.
- Eat high-calorie snacks.
- Learn the symptoms of hypothermia and how to help someone who is experiencing those symptoms.
- Keep your smartphone charged in case you need to call for help.
For the complete list on mitigating extreme cold temperatures and staying safe, check out our guide here. We’ve provided a printable checklist for you that can serve as a reminder when you need it in the future.
Do you have any questions about extreme cold that weren’t answered? If so, leave them in the comments below!
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